Cheryl Bolen is an American author, who has a particular passion for the English Regency Period. She lives in Texas with her husband, who is a professor. Cheryl has enjoyed great success; her books have been translated into eleven languages, she is a regular contributor to The Regency Plum and The Regency Reader, and she has won multiple awards including Best Historical Novel for ‘My Lord Wicked’ (2012 International Digital Awards).
Cheryl spoke to Historical Honey about her writing process and kindly gave a few words of wisdom for aspiring writers…
Cheryl Bolen: Historical romance author specializing in Regency set romances.
Cheryl: I’ve always had a special connection to books written by Brits. Even in college, my favorite lit classes were studying English writers. In the 1970’s I discovered Georgette Heyer regency romances, and I was hooked. I read every book she wrote
HH: Was it a struggle to get published? We know that it can take years!
C: I wrote my first book – a romantic suspense – when I was 25, but it didn’t get published. I wrote a few more but they didn’t sell, either. I got serious when I turned 40, and spent 3 years writing a World War II love story. It won many contests for unpublished authors, but no publishers wanted WW II. In one contest in which I placed, the judge was a senior editor at Harlequin Historical. She sent me a message that said she liked my writing and if I wrote a historical romance set before 1900 she’d like to see it. That’s when I decided to write a Regency romance. By then I’d read so many I was beginning to detect others’ mistakes. I entered the first few chapters in a couple of contests, and it did well. Then I sent it to that Harlequin editor, and she bought it (A Duke Deceived) seven months later. It was my seventh complete book. I have now published more than 20 books. Since indie publishing became popular in 2011, when I epublished some of my out-of-print books, I selected to publish that WW II story (It Had to Be You), and readers have loved it (but I admit the sales don’t compare to my Regency romances). I also decided that first book wasn’t bad. After I updated it a bit, it released as an ebook (Capitol Offense) and has gotten favorable reviews.
HH: We know everyone has their own style of doing things; how do you begin the writing process?
C: That’s a tough question because every book is so different. I usually focus on Chapter 1. I flesh out the major characters – even doing questionnaires for each – and I create a plot outline that’s no more than one page. Those are the three elements I have to have in order to start a book.
HH: Typically, how long does it take for you to complete the research around a new book?
C: I learned early on that a book would never get written if you researched before the writing. It’s so easy to do “bird-walking” when you start researching. I do have an extensive library of Regency research books, diaries, biographies, which I love to read and which help me truly understand the era I write about. As I write, I will research items on a case-by-case basis. So I would say the research is an ongoing, never-ending process.
HH: Is there much of an appetite for historical novels in the US? Are most of your fans American, or do you have a fan-base all over the world?
C: American publishers have become very selective about historicals, and confine these books almost solely to the Regency period. These do sell well. In contrast, the inspirational market is very successfully publishing Christian romances which occur during American frontier times. A couple of years ago, the senior editor of Harlequin’s Love Inspired Inspirational (religious) books asked me to do a Regency for them. That book, Marriage of Inconvenience, was released in October.
I am thrilled to say I have fans all over the world now that Kindles and iPads and other reading devices are becoming widely used. I subscribe to a service that monitors daily ebook sales around the world, and yesterday I had books on 89 different international Top 100 bestseller lists, mostly in North America and various European countries. I only had four titles on the US Top 100 lists. Most were on various European lists.
HH: What advice would you give to aspiring historical-fiction writers?
C: Glad you asked! Everyone thinks their first book is a masterpiece, and they usually offer it to agents and big publishing houses – which almost universally reject it. Instead of shipping it off (which nowadays is all done electronically), expose your work to other writers through critique groups. Enter contests. If your work’s not publishable, you’ll get feedback that points out the problems. If you should win, that will get potential agents’ and editors’ attention. I cannot expound the merits of joining Romance Writers of America strongly enough, and we do have members from around the world, most especially in Australia. It’s a very professional organization which educates its members on all aspects of the publishing industry. I wasn’t a romance reader when I joined, but I was told that’s where writers go to learn how to get published. Four years after I joined, I got “The Call.”
So, the three things are: critique group, contests, and joining professional writers’ organizations.
HH: You are a fan of travelling to England; what is your favourite historical location here and why?
C: Oh, that’s a tough one because I love so many places there. If I have to pick one, though, I’d say it’s St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. It’s wonderfully evocative of the Middle Ages and so cool that it’s surrounded by sea. And, of course, Cornwall is magnificent!
HH: And lastly, who is your historical idol?
C: It’s not clear to me if you mean a historical personage or author of historical works, so I’ll give it all to you! My favorite writers of British romantic fiction are Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. For mystery, I adore Josephine Tey and Dorothy L. Sayers. I love the contemporary biographers Amanda Foreman and Antonia Fraser, both of whom have written about Georgians. My favorite historical personage is Lady Bessborough, who was born a Spencer and whose sister was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I did a book on her, but my agent wasn’t able to sell it. We kept hearing, “She wasn’t a queen.”